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Trump in strategy document to cite China, Russia as competitors

By Steve Holland and James Oliphant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump's administration said on Monday that Russia interferes in the domestic political affairs of countries globally, in a sober analysis of Moscow as a rival despite Trump's own bid for warmer ties with President Vladimir Putin.

The criticism of Russia, laid out in a new national security strategy formed from Trump's "America First" foreign policy vision, reflects a view long held by U.S. diplomats that Russia actively undermines American interests at home and abroad.

"Through modernized forms of subversive tactics, Russia interferes in the domestic political affairs of countries around the world," said the document.

It stopped short of directly citing what U.S. intelligence says was Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

"Russia uses information operations as part of its offensive cyber efforts to influence public opinion across the globe. Its influence campaigns blend covert intelligence operations and false online personas with state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or 'trolls,'" the document said.

Trump has frequently spoken of his desire for an improved relationship with Putin, even though Russia has frustrated U.S. ambitions in Syria and Ukraine and done little to help Washington in its standoff with North Korea.

A U.S. Justice Department investigation is looking into whether Trump campaign aides colluded with Russia, something that Moscow and Trump both deny.

In the second such call in under a week, Putin spoke to Trump on Sunday to thank him for providing U.S. intelligence that helped thwart a bomb attack in the Russian city of St. Petersburg. On Thursday, Putin and Trump discussed the North Korean crisis.

Congress mandates that every U.S. administration set out its national security strategy. The new Trump strategy is influenced strongly by the thinking of top national security officials rather than that of the president himself, said one official involved in preparing the document.

Talking points sent to U.S. embassies worldwide on what diplomats should say about the new strategy makes clear that the official U.S. position is tough on Russia.

An unclassified State Department cable, seen by Reuters, said: "Russia tries to weaken the credibility of America's commitment to Europe. With its invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, Russia has demonstrated a willingness to use force to challenge the sovereignty of states in the region."Harry Kazianis, an analyst at the conservative Center for the National Interest think tank, said, "While things with Moscow might be warm and fuzzy for the moment, President Putin will not take too kindly to being labeled as what essentially amounts to as an enemy of America."

The Republican president's strategy reflects his "America First" priorities of protecting the U.S. homeland and borders, rebuilding the military, projecting strength abroad and pursuing trade policies more favorable to the United States, according to excerpts made available by the White House.

CLIMATE CHANGE

It drops Democratic former President Barack Obama's 2016 description of climate change as a U.S. national security threat, aides said. Trump has vowed to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord unless changes are made to it.

Trump was to give a speech about the new strategy at 2 p.m. EST (1900 GMT) on Monday.

The Trump administration lumps together China and Russia as competitors seeking to challenge U.S. power and erode its security and prosperity.

"They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence," according to excerpts of Trump's strategy released by the White House.

The singling out of China and Russia as "revisionist powers" reflects the Trump administration's wariness of them despite Trump's own attempts to build strong relations both with Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

A senior administration official who briefed reporters said Russia and China were attempting to revise the global status quo - Russia in Europe with its military incursions into Ukraine and Georgia, and China in Asia by its aggression in the South China Sea. Russia denies the allegations that it meddled with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Trump has been working with Xi to exert pressure on North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, but has made little progress on his vow to negotiate terms more favorable to the United States to lower a trade deficit that reached $347 billion in 2016.

The administration warned that intellectual property theft by China is a national security problem.

“We need to protect data in different ways. We need to ensure that the legislation we have, like CFIUS, is up to date and reflects the kinds of strategic investments that are taking place by other countries,” an administration official said.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews the purchase of U.S. assets by foreign companies, has recently taken a strong stand against technology transfers to Chinese companies.

In November, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Senate and House of Representatives introduced bills to toughen U.S. foreign investment rules amid growing concern about Chinese efforts to buy U.S. high-tech companies.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Phil Stewart; Addtional reporting by John Walcott; Editing by Alistair Bell and Jonathan Oatis)